Bucs' defense is all the rage on football's biggest stage

Bucs' defense is all the rage on biggest stage

Buccaneers 48

Raiders 21

Super Bowl Xxxvii

January 27, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

SAN DIEGO - The unofficial end of Super Bowl XXXVII came with 8 minutes and 48 seconds left in the second quarter. Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon had just escaped the pass rush of Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Ellis Wyms, and as he stepped up in the pocket, he ducked.

Only one problem: There was no one chasing him. Then, within seconds, Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice circled in for the kill and the sack. And from that point on, we didn't hear much again from Gannon, receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice and running back Charlie Garner.

The Raiders had two long touchdown passes in the second half, but one was off a busted play, and the other came when Tampa Bay was in that dumb prevent defense. When it counted, the Bucs' defense came through in the beginning and in the end as linebacker Derrick Brooks intercepted a Gannon pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown with 1:18 remaining in the game to finish off Oakland, which had pulled within 34-21.

Any superlative would work for the Bucs' defense last night. Smothering. Dominating. Intimidating. Tampa Bay simply overwhelmed Oakland, 48-21, at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Bucs don't have a name for their defense yet, but they'll start comparing this one soon to the Doomsday, Steel Curtain, Purple People Eaters, the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Ravens.

Until Gannon completed a 39-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Porter with 2:14 left in the third quarter, the Raiders had averaged only 3.9 yards a catch and had only 154 yards of total offense after three quarters. The Bucs intercepted five Gannon passes, returning three for touchdowns.

Unbelievable.

Are they as good as those defenses? Who knows? Actually, who cares?

"We have some classic guys who play at a classic level, and you've got to tip your hat to our guys. We showed today how great our defense is, and we will go down as one of the best of all time," said Rice.

Rice is one of them. The Bucs also have the top defensive tackle in the league in Warren Sapp, the No. 2 big-play linebacker after Ray Lewis in Brooks, and one of the hardest-hitting strong safeties in John Lynch.

There is one other person who is often overlooked - defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Tampa Bay's defense is the one that was built by Tony Dungy, but Kiffin has added his personal touches.

More importantly, the same structure has been in place for quite a while. And unless Kiffin gets hired away, it won't change much because the Buccaneers aren't in need of a lot of salary cap relief.

So move over Joe Greene and Jack Lambert, and Richard Dent and Mike Singletary. The Bucs are looking for their own place in history.

"We have a great defense in Tampa Bay, not a good one, but a great one," said Bucs coach Jon Gruden. "We re-rout receivers, we disguise our looks. That's what happened today. We're great against the forward pass. They say bring it on because that's what we like to defend."

Al Davis' boys came into the game averaging 28.1 points and 389.8 yards, including 279.7 passing yards. They left with Gannon looking shell shocked, and those big, huge overweight offensive linemen searching for oxygen masks. In the words of Muhammad Ali, the Raiders couldn't hit what their eyes couldn't see.

Tampa Bay is all about speed. They are about penetration and interruption. They love to stay in Cover 2, but they also like to move guys around on the defensive line. They aren't as physical as the old Cowboys and Steelers, and they don't have that combination of brute strength and speed like the 1985 Bears and 2000 Ravens, but they pursue and get to the ball. They have enough speed to offset teams, and that's what they did to the Raiders. The only thing that can be as ugly as an out-of-sync, run-and-shoot offense is a West Coast offense.

"Size only matters if you allow it to," said Tampa Bay's Rice. "Speed kills, and we used a lot of it today."

Gannon didn't even have time to complete short passes to Jerry Rice and Brown, which had become the staple of Oakland's offense. At times, Simeon Rice made left offensive tackle Barry Sims look ridiculous. Which play did he make Sims look the worst? Was it on that quick step to the outside and then coming back hard inside to sack Gannon with 10:40 left in the first quarter, or was it the hard rush inside past Sims, which forced Gannon to throw his first interception with nine seconds left in the first quarter?

Sims wasn't alone in stinking up the joint. Left end Greg Spires made right offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy look slow. As for Sapp, there have been knuckleheads in the past couple of weeks who have said he isn't a dominating factor anymore.

Well, ask Oakland guards Mo Collins and Frank Middleton if Sapp isn't still one of the most dominating forces.

The Raiders feared the Bucs right from the beginning. With 5:46 left in the first quarter and holding a 3-0 lead, the Raiders took possession at the Tampa Bay 49. This was a time to go for something big, a chance to gain a nice lead early.

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